In the past, engagements with Iran on the nuclear issue had proved to be blips. There was a serious lack of interest from both sides, especially from Iran, which stuck to the stance that its right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes was non-negotiable. So when new Iran President Hassan Rowhani made some conciliatory gestures after his election, they were greeted with a mix of optimism and doubt. But those doubts are now receding and optimism is gaining ground. It’s not yet time to get carried away, but there is an opportunity that has opened up, which it’s up to the US to seize and work on.
The latest peace gesture from Iran has come from the president himself. Rowhani told a US television audience prior to his visit to the United Nations in New York that he was hopeful of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear weapons programme and his country would never develop weapons of mass destruction. The statement is part of a series of other reconciliatory statements and speeches emanating from Iran, including from foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and follows such confidence-building measures as Rosh Hashana greetings from the Iranian leadership to Jews worldwide, the release of political prisoners and exchange of letters between President Barack Obama and Rowhani. But among the most significant is the transfer of responsibility for nuclear negotiations from the conservatives in the military to the foreign ministry. The supreme leader has given his blessing for direct talks with US. In the NBC interview, Rowhani said that “we have sufficient political latitude to solve this problem.”
There is no doubt that Iran’s overtures are accompanied by a certain seriousness this time, but the question is how to translate this thaw into results. The White House has said actions are more important than words, and Obama said that Rowhani is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and US in a way “that we haven’t seen in the past and so we should test it.”
The first step towards results could be the immediate launch of talks, where Iran agrees to undo some of the progress they have made on uranium enrichment, or some similar measure, and Washington takes steps to re-induct Iran into the global trading system. Establishing mutual trust and credibility will not be easy after a stand-off that has lasted for eleven years, but there is no alternative – except a stalemate that wll benefit none.
It is said that when Rowhani will arrive in New York next week, he is likely to bring a package of proposals on the nuclear programme. Those proposals must contain something substantial which will help both sides to move forward•